Level-5, the legendary role-playing developing house releases their first "next-gen" title, the MMO inspired White Knight Chronicles. After a successful run in Japan, we'll see if this traditional styled adventure has enough mojo to keep you leveling up.
Before 'White Knight Chronicles' even loads up, most gamers are going to have a preconceived notion to how this adventure will play out. You will meet your hero, "someone" will have to be saved, you will start an adventure, and get into a number of tricky situations. You will meet new allies, learn about some ancient magical powers, and so on... This will also include finding loot, visiting towns, raiding dungeons, and leveling up your character to be a powerful force in the world. This is how we like our J-RPGs, and even without them being the most innovative bunch; it is familiar, welcoming, and ultimately fun. Well, most of the time.
White Knight "Recycled" Chronicles
White Knight Chronicles story is a little too cliché, even without the lead being an amnesia lost anti-hero. This tale follows Leonard, a wine maker’s assistant who unlocks the power of an ancient knight. This kinght is the White Knight, a spiritual power that has taken the form of a suit of armour (its the Gundam looking guy on the cover). Conveniently, Leonard ends up saving the life of the princess, and than looses her to an evil tyrant. This turns the plot into the a-typical rescue scenario without any unexpected twists to make White Knight feel original. The only real innovation (if you can call it that) is transforming into the White Knight, but really its not that fresh. With a band of recycled characters, you will travel down the dull road of absolution. Why do teenagers aways have to save the day?
Huh? - So We Don't Want to be the Hero?
Continuing with the story, the above synopsis was the normal part, now are you ready for the strangeness? Your character is White Knight Chronicles is not Leonard, the White Knight wielding hero! Your character is another employee of the Wine maker, a temp, who happens to be tagging along on the adventure. After spending sometime with the character construction screen to make my character, I was appalled when I saw him standing in the back, not even participating in the cut-scenes or the story. Out of all the characters, even the bit players, your created character is the lowest on the totem pole, and total forgettable. Now, everyone at once say “Huh?”. Huh, exactly, this makes no sense, and right from the get go you feel estranged from White Knight Chronicles tale, as a nobody along for the ride. I don’t have a clue why Level wanted the game designed like this, it is unique, but not a good unique. Even though Leonard is your stereotypical hero, I would have rather been in his shoes.
Heading into Battle
Thankfully, you are not stuck with this nobody in the combat, as you can freely switch among the members in your team. Now you can become Leonard and feel like a hero! To bring in more strangeness, you can only control three members of your party at once even though you have more members in your group (aside from a few pre-planned segments). I know this is standard affair in some role-playing games. However, the way the world is presented along with the combat, I would have liked to seen everyone out in the open. In the online portion (which I will get to a little later) had no problems about its aspiration to be a MMO, so why didn’t the single player endeavor convey the same attitude. Again, we have another “Huh?”
The combat in White Knight works on a time based system where you can attack enemies in your vicinity. Enemies randomly generate and spawn back after you defeat them and revisit an area. It is a little annoying, but expected. The combat is a little slower, but thankfully, it shaken up with a little bit of strategy you can use between using combination attacks and magic skills. Each character is 100% customizable, so you can build them however, you wish, melding magic with melee attacks, or whatnot. This makes combat mildly more interesting, but not quite enough to make it feel as magical as some other games.
Huh? - I Can't Hit You, But You Can Hit Me?
Now, we didn’t have a “Huh?” in that last paragraph, so here it comes. The combat system is broken, and this is because the enemies do not follow the same laws of reality that your party does. To hit an enemy you have to be the vicinity of them, and for melee attacks make contact with them. Well, the enemies, they can hit you no matter where you are. Even if you disengage the combat and run around a hill, they can still hit you. Their attack, either magic, or melee attacks teleport through space and time to hit you wherever you are. This blows, and totally distracts and ruins an otherwise half-decent system. This could be a deal breaker for some gamers who cannot stand the fact that the game “cheats”, I dealt with it, but then again I had a review to complete.
The First Positive
I know I have been focusing on the negative aspects of White Knight Chronicles, and trust me, I wish it were not so, but at least we have one big positive, and that is the online community. Online, White Knight turns into a very different game. It still has the same feel as the single player abomination, but it more at home under its MMO styled setting. Online you look to head out with friends on multiplayer adventures, killing monsters, building up your own customizable town, and getting loot, is all part of the deal. Even during the single player game, you get a feeling that White Knight should have been an online only game, and after spending sometime in the online portion, this feeling has grown even stronger. Online is where White Knight shines and it is just a shame because most gamers will be picking this knowing Level’s previous reputation for great stories.
White Knight Blogs
One feature that creates an unique feeling of community online is the 'Geonet'. This is Level’s own network for White Knight Chronicles, that allows the player to have their own world that you can fill with your own profiles and blogs, and hook up with friends to go on quests. This is comparable to 'Final Fantasy XII', or more appropriately, 'Phantasy Star Online'. The internal mechanism is a little overwhelming at first, but it becomes natural after you spend sometime in the 'Geonet'. It is interesting that Level did not incorporate this with the PSN, which makes matching up your normal friends a pain, but at least it works. Having their own server lets them more freely update the game engine and maintain a smooth working game. Fortunately, for us North American gamers, the game is coming late which means the Japanese region worked through the growing pains.
The online aspect of White Knight Chronicles will likely be “the one” reason why you would want to dip more a lot of hours into the game, because the single player aspect is fairly short (for a RPG), and ultimately disappointing. Online, you have hours upon hours of 'Geonet' gaming waiting to be explored. Although, keep in mind the experience might be a little involved for the casual gamer as it is filled with tedious level grinding, and duplicated quests... but that's what it is all about, isn’t it? I am sure as time goes on, the online community will grow, and White Knight’s value will increase.
Ultimately, White Knight Chronicles is a major disappointment for any fans that have played any of Level 5’s previous games, or for anyone looking for a top tier role-playing experience. White Knight Chronicles can simply not deliver, and no matter how much you want to love the game, it is a constant struggle between frustration, recycled ideas, and poor execution. There are better RPGs on the market, and hey, Final Fantasy XIII is right around the corner. As much, as pains me to say, White Knight Chronicles is a bust.